Winner Professor Terence Speed, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research

(Not) curing cancer only part of the story

Professor Terry Speed accepts he’s never going to see the headline ‘statistician cures cancer’.

However, it’s a sure bet that every significant triumph we see in the long fight against the Big C has been won on the back of some serious, high-quality number crunching. And there’s a good chance Melburnian Terry Speed helped.

For his superb leadership of the bioinformatics team at the Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research, and his other contributions to the science of bioinformatics, Terry has been awarded the CSIRO Eureka Prize for Leadership in Science.

At the Institute, the team that Terry leads uses computational mathematics to help researchers interpret massive amounts of experimental data.

Terry’s extraordinary leadership in the field extends well beyond the walls of the Institute. His techniques for improved DNA data analysis are distributed free-of-charge and used by thousands of researchers around the world. He is one of the world’s most cited scientists—not only in mathematics, but in computer science, biology and biochemistry.

In the fight against cancer Terry works alongside genetic and molecular biologists, other mathematicians, computer engineers and technicians, and in a 45-year career has also assisted farmers, psychiatrists and diamond miners.

And criminologists too... famously, he was an expert witness at the Ronald Ryan case and the OJ Simpson trial.

“Terry was one of the creators of the field of bioinformatics, and is one of the world’s leading statisticians,” Australian Museum Director and CEO Kim McKay said. “He also devotes tremendous effort to the people he works with. He has supervised over 60 postgraduate students, and mentored dozens of other researchers, many of whom have gone on to important positions within the academic and scientific community.”

This prize, recognising leadership, cements Terry’s position as one of Australia’s most decorated scientists. He was elected as a Fellow of the Australian Academy of Science in 2001, received an Australia Fellowship in 2009, won the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science in 2013, and was elected to Fellowship of the Royal Society that same year.

The Australian Museum Eureka Prizes are the country’s most comprehensive national science awards. The Eureka Prizes have been rewarding science since 1990—celebrating 25 years in 2014.

The other finalists were:

  • Professor Hugh Durrant-Whyte, CEO of NICTA and a world leader in the field of robotics.
  • Professor Michelle Simmons who leads the Quantum Computation and Communications Technology team at University of New South Wales, and led the team that created the world’s first single-atom transistor.

Watch Terry's YouTube video

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